Food is one of the most vast topics we can talk about. There are so many ideas from one size fits all nutrition plans, to extreme elimination diets - no meat, no carbs, fat-free, sugar-free, sanity free. It's no wonder people have no clue what's real or not, not to mention the fact that beyond all the science, there is emotion, psychology, and past trauma tied to food.
It's not just about units of energy. We can science the shit out of food until we are blue in the face, but most people have something called the knowledge-action gap. They know what to do, but they can't seem to make themselves do it. Science is proven and works... but only if someone actually takes action around it.
Over the last 6 months, I've had the opportunity to take about 30 people through Precision Nutrition. If you don't know about PN, it's a year long nutrition program that is habits based. The idea is that true change takes place over time, and through the compound effect, after a year, the little daily habits add up to massive sustainable change.
The program is incredible and works IF you do the daily habit. Taking action on a daily habit, no matter how small, is actually really challenging for most people. And I think it's challenging because there is a key word missing from our vocabulary when we talk about food habits.
To give you an idea of the struggle around action, here is an excerpt of an email I wrote back to one of my clients who lives in NYC that has been having a difficult time doing the habits, and it was really taking a tole on them emotionally.
You are not alone my friend.
Please know this shit is HAAARD. A year long program? Most people don't have relationships that last a full year.. and you get to have sex in relationships.
Food is such a wonderful, horrible, fulfilling, guilt inducing, essential part of life. It's the ONLY thing that is a vice that we absolutely need to have. How fucked up that the thing that wrecks us emotionally is the same thing that keeps us living? It's like an unfair joke from the gods.
And, we are choosing to deal with this unfair joke from the gods in the greatest, HARDEST city in the world to live in.
What we are doing, on all accounts, is no easy task. We get down on ourselves for not being perfect, and we make choices that we know deep down don't serve us, and at the same time, forget that what we are doing is nearly impossible for most humans on the planet.
Who else CHOOSES to live in a city that will eat them apart from every angle, that is so expensive and so indulgent and gluttonous at the same time - and still tries to make the healthy choice that costs so much more money than eating shitty, when we have the best food in the world at our disposal? It's fucked up.
Think about it.
This is NOT easy. Before you get too down on yourself, don't forget that.
Yes, every decision is your decision... BUT... cut yourself a little slack and know that you are in a very small percentage of humans who are trying to do something that is truly one of the most challenging things you can do... make it in NYC and control your food.
Now obviously this is a pretty extreme example. Most people aren't trying to make it in the entertainment industry in NYC, but that doesn't mean it's not hard.
If it's just as simple as doing a daily habit, what is missing? Why do we have all the knowledge but can't close the knowledge-action gap? What do you have to do to a habit to make it stick? One word.
Food as a practice.
**I'm gonna hashtag #FAAP that shit because that's what the cool kids are doing these days, and dammit, just because I needed a 23 year old to show me how to make an instagram story doesn't mean I'm not young and cool.
Nothing can become a habit unless you practice, and if we are just practicing, then it never has to be perfect.
Think about anything you practice on a consistent basis. You practice yoga. You practice guitar and piano. You practice sports.
What if we treated those practices how we treat food? Do you fall out of one pose in yoga and say “fuck it’ and walk out of the class? When you hit the wrong fret on your guitar do you throw in the towel for the day because you messed it all up? No way. If you miss the ball someone passes you, do you walk off the field and try again the next day? That sounds ludicrous when we think about it that way, and yet we do that with food.
One cookie and we blew it…. Might as well eat shit the rest of the week and try again on Monday. We do that with food, but we'd never stop practicing piano because we hit a wrong note.
Can you start to think about food just like any other practice because whether you want to or not, you practice every single day. And what you practice, you get really good at over time.
If you practice eating everything on your plate even after you're full, you get really good at it.
If you practice eating when you feel stressed or sad, you get really good at it.
If you practice eating until you’re satisfied and leave a little on your plate, you get really good at that!
So I want you to consider this - every time you eat, you’re practicing.
I want to throw some truths at you if you are going to adapt this mindset of #FAAP.
It's not going to be easy, and a lot of times you are going to practice what you're already good at.
You need to remember, you've been practicing a certain way for a very long time, and humans like doing what they are good at. Just like motor memory, you won't have to think about making the choices you always do. You will have to make a conscious effort to practice differently. Try this:
If you usually eat until you are completely full, practice eating until you are satisfied and then stop. The coolest part is, you can save the rest and eat it later - just wait till you’re hungry again. When you sit down to eat, literally say to yourself, "I’m going to practice eating until I’m satisfied for this meal," and then actually practice. You might not even know what that feels like at first, and that’s cool! Start to pay attention to how you feel and see what happens. If you end up going past satisfied, cool. Practice the next meal.
On the other end of the spectrum, maybe you are an all or nothing eater. That was me for a long time. I would be perfect throughout the week and destroy the weekends. If I slipped up during the week, I would throw in the towel on the rest of the week and use it to binge or eat like an asshole and start again the following week. It sucked. It was a mind-fuck. It was a viscous cycle.
I was not an “eat one hershey kiss after dinner kind of person.” I was a "destroy every treat in the house if I’m going to have dessert" kind of person, and I had to practice eating a little of what I wanted if I wanted to break the cycle.
In fact, there was a 12 week period where I forced myself, as an experiment, to practice eating a very small piece of dessert every single day and stopping after that little piece -- no matter if I was emotionally ready for it to be over or not.
The first couple of weeks were hard, but ya know what happened? I got really good at eating just a little bit of dessert after my dinner, and I didn’t want to go ham on the weekends anymore. I didn’t feel deprived. It took a hot second, but I got to the point where I could enjoy a few bites of some chocolatey goodness and feel satisfied. I still do it every day.
I was not born that way. I had, for a long time, a scarcity mindset around food even though I have never not had more than enough food. I had to practice. It was hard. It is still hard sometimes. But, if you want to get out of your all or nothing cycle, you can practice too.
You're going to want to give up because it will be challenging.
I promise, promise, promise it will come. It's weird because you have been eating your whole life and know how to do it, but just like you couldn't just pick up a guitar and crush Stairway to Heaven on your first attempt, you're not going to super easily be able to crush new ways of eating on your first attempt, and that's okay, Things take time, but you'll be amazing how quickly you can learn a new skill -- that includes eating. Check out these people who show that practice really does make progress.
Obviously you're not going to change your whole way of eating in 3 hours, but if we are just practicing, why not practice eating in a way that in 2 years you can look back on and say, "I'm really glad I practiced that." Violin lady is probably stoked she practiced.
The best part about food as a practice is that is lets you off the hook a little bit. You're not in game 7 in the world series of eating. You're practicing. You're trial and error-ing (<--new word, just invented it). You're seeing what works and what doesn't. You didn't lose if you had a tough practice. You learned.
It will be challenging, but the more you practice, the more data you collect, and the more you can adjust.
Emotions are crazy mother fuckers, and food fuels suppression.
Food is the fastest, easiest way to suppress any emotion. When we get out of our very comfortable thermostat of emotions, which usually range from fine to good, a lot of times we don't know what to do with them. What's the first thing that happens? We feel sad or uncertain and immediately stop at the bodega to grab Tostitos hint of lime chips and medium chunky garden salsa (but not the restaurant style kind because it's kinda runny). We suppress that shit with the most perfect chip ever invented.
It happens on the other end too. We get a promotion and a hefty salary increase to go with it, and what do we do? Slam beers and go out to dinner because we also don't know how to contain in on the top end, so we stuff ourselves and get hammered.
I'm not saying celebrating with food is wrong. It's not. it's awesome. I definitely want to celebrate your birthday by eating cake. But, it's interesting to notice and be aware of just how easy food brings our emotions back to a tolerable, comfortable range.
This is a way bigger can of worms than I can take on here, but start to notice if you practice suppressing any emotions with food, and consider having the feelings. It's understandable that sometimes the emotions are too overwhelming to bare (and if they are, I'm not joking, send me a message, and I will personally help you find the help you deserve because mental health is so important and not talked about enough), but using food year after year instead of processing and finding ways to work through things is also a viscous cycle. We can practice having feelings, and that involves practicing the food that surrounds them.
Okay, here's the deal. I want you to start FAAP-ing (another new word - is Merriam-Webster hiring because I'm on FIRE!).
You don't like vegetables? Practice having a little bit everyday. According to this article from PN, the taste gets better the more you eat them.
If you are all or nothing and want to get out of that black or white life, practice having one small cookie on a Tuesday and being okay with it. Remember, you're just practicing. One cookie.
Are you the Vice President of the clean plate club? Practice leaving a few bites on your plate. You can save them for a little bit later. It doesn't have to go to waste. Or, your dog will definitely be stoked to help you out, unless it's whatever food this is.
If you crush hint of limes at the first sign of stress, practice figuring out why you're feeling stressed, and see if there are productive ways to handle it instead of suppressing it. If it's a deeper issue than just handling stress, there are resources and people that are available to help.
FAAP is definitely a new way of thinking around food, but if we can take the pressure off of perfect, maybe practicing will give us the flexibility and freedom to find out what works in our lives without feeling guilt and help us create a more sustainable way of eating.
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